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tv   Religion Ethics Newsweekly  PBS  February 26, 2012 10:00am-10:30am PST

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coming up -- being gay in uganda, where homosexuality is already illegal and where harsh new penalties may be imposed. also, histoan elaine pagels on who wrote the book of revelation. >> it's the most controversial book in the bible. plus, ashes on the go. taking the solemn ash wednesday ritual to the streets.
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>> welcome, i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. violent protests broke out in afghanistan this week after copies of the quran were burned at a u.s. military base there. u.s. officials say they were burned untentionally. two american soldiers were killed on thursday and at least 20 afghans have died in the demonstrations. in a letter to afghan president karzai, president obama apologized for the "inadvertent error." a military investigation is now
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underway. in syria, there were new warnings of a growing humanitarian crisis as the government crackdown continues. the international red cross called for a cease fire in order to deliver emergency aid. activists in the heavily-shelled city of homs reported severe food and water shortages. meanwhile the united nations announced that it was considering investigating several top syrian leaders for possible crimes against humanity. more than 5,000 people have died since last march. about 500 of them are believed to have been children. in this country, religious rhetoric was again prominent and controversial on the gop campaign trail. rick santorum said president obama's environmental policies reflected a "phony theology." santorum later said he wasn't criticizing the president's faith, but rather his world view. at the republican debate in arizona, several of the
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candidates again accused the obama administration of attacking religion and having a secular agenda. meanwhile, a coalition of prominent religious groups urged all candidates to avoid sowing religious discord. the anti-defamation league, the interfaith alliance and the baptist joint committee said while candidatesshould talk abo their religious convictions, there is a point where an emphasis on religion can become unsettling in a diverse society. one of the biggest flashpoints has been president obama's mandate that, under the new health care law, employees at religiously affiliated organizations must receive coverage for contraception free of charge. the president revised the policy to say that insurance companies not faith-based groups must cover the cost. but many religious groups remain opposed. least five evangelical and catholic universities have filed lawsuits challenging the
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mandate. this week, more than 2,500 evangelical leaders and pastors signed a letter to president obama claiming the policy still violates their religious freedom. in washington state, a federal judge ruled that pharmacists can not be required to dispense the morning after pill if they object on religious grounds. a 2007 statewide regulation says pharmacies must provide prescription drugs for which there is a demand. but the judge ruled it is unconstitutional to force individual pharmacists to give out emergency contraception if they oppose it. the state will likely appeal. in maryland, the state legislature passed a gay marriage bill, which the governor promised to sign. it is slated to go into effect in 2013, but opponents say they will push for a referendum on the november ballot. top u.s. officials have made it
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clear that in the promotion of human rights around the world, protecting the rights of homosexuals is essential. but that policy conflicts sharply with both law and public opinion in many african countries, where homosexuals are shunned and fearful. fred de sam lazaro reports from uganda. >> david's murder was meant to cause all of us who support human rights to live in fear. >> reporter: david kato was memorialized recently on the anniversary of his death, a small service led by a minister visitingromew york. kato's advocacy of gay rights in a land where homosexuality is deeply taboo made him a target for a tabloid called "rolling stone." it published the names of what it called the country's "top homos." under a banner headline and the words "hang them" was kato's photograph. a few days later, he was beaten to death.
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advocates say it was only the most publicized incident in an atmosphere of growing hostility, socially and legally, toward gays. >> you ugandans are people of courage. you are people of honor and people of determination, and you are defying the odds because you are taking a stand that we will not be crushed by the bahati bill. >> reporter: the bahati bill, named after its author, david bahati, in uganda's parliament, was introduced in 2009 and reintroduced earlier this month. it would add severe penalties for homosexuality, which is already illegal under so called "sodomy laws" passed during british lonial times. >> i could be put in jail for life for not doing anything but for saying i am a homosexual and for being out. >> reporter: frank mugisha is uganda's best known gay rights advocate. he took over the group led by david kato. mugisha blames american
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evangelical pastors, like massachusetts-based scott lively, for helping stoke intolerance here. >> what has caused these people to end up in this condition that god condemns, that is hurting them and that we want to help theto erce? >> repter: videos posted on the internet show lively conducting seminars here decrying a global homosexual agenda, insisting that homosexuality is a learned behavior that can be unlearned, and that he'd helped many people do so. lively denies he ever called for violence, but in a deeply religious country, mugisha says such messages affirm local clergy and policymakers. >> you have political leaders saying we should neveaccept homosexuality, a political leader saying if the law is passed, i'll go and take a job in the prisons to hang the homosexuals myself. so if it is a political leader, a member of parliament saying
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that, then how are the people who believe, who have voted for them, who listen to them, how are they going to react? >> reporter: reaction on the streets was strongly in favor of the anti-homosexuality bill. polls have shown that 95% of ugandans favor criminalizing homosexuality. >> i have a verse in the bible, in levitus 20 verse 13. it says homosexuals should be put to death. >> reporter: when first introduced, uganda's anti-homosexuality bill did call for the death penalty in certain cases. it provoked an international outcry among donor nations. a large part of uganda's budget comes from foreign aid. the measure was shelved until what some people here call a new provocation late last year. >> like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being lgbt does not make you
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less human, and that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights. >> reporter: clinton told this gathering of diplomats in geneva that the u.s. was placing the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people at the heart of its human rights agenda and tying it to aid decisions. >> the president has directed all u.s. government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of lgbt status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable lgbt refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of lgbt rights. >> when secretary of state hillary clinton declared that gay rights were human rights, our response was this is going to be very tough on africa, because most african nations
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consider gayism -- >> reporter: gayism? >> gayism as a behavior, not as a culture, not as a faith, and definitely not as a way of life. serwadda, who heads an association of pentecostal and evangelical churches, says western countries are imposing their values and agenda on sub-saharan africa. as proof he noted that the head of mission at the u.s. embassy here attended the funeral of gay activist david kato. >> many people, thousands of them, die of hiv/aids, of other illnesses and ailments. many people die in road accidents, and we've never seen an ambassador show up at a graveside. >> reporter: could it be that his picture was on the front page of a magazine that said, "hang them"? >> could also be because america has an agenda for homosexuals in uganda. >> reporter: like police and
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prosecutors in the kato murder case, he says robbery or a soured business deal could well have been the motivation, not homophobia. pastor serwadda isn't sure he's ever met a gay person in uganda and that, he says, is proof that homosexuality was never an issue here until gays in the west began stoking it, encouraging ugandans to push for special rights and protections he says they don't need. >> nobody has gone to jail. nobody has been harassed. nobody has been ostracized because of their sexual orientation. >> reporter: wow. that's contrary to what we hear. >> you've just come in the country a couple of weeks ago. we live here. i've lived here for more than 50 years, so i know. >> reporter: but you've never met a gay person. >> only one, and i wasn't sure he was. >> reporter: but you know that they're not harassed. >> they're not. >> reporter: he says the obama
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administration is pushing gay rights now to court the gay vote in the u.s. election. we tried to talk to u.s. officials for this report, but our request to interview the ambassador or any other spokesperson for the u.s. embassy in uganda was turned down. it's an indication of how deicatthe issue gay righ is in this country. meanwhile, the anti-homosexuality legislation, with the death penalty clause removed, is working its way through a weeks-long hearing process. it will be closely watched around the world. in washington, that will include the robert f. kennedy center for justice and human rights. last year, it awarded its annual prize to frank mugisha. >> robert kennedy would have been amazed by your work, frank. >> reporter: it's the first time the award has ever been given to a gay rights campaigner. mugisha ys the prize and the notoriety are a mixed blessing. it bestows international legitimacy and may allow him access to policymakers. still, with emotions running high, mugisha says he lives in
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almost constant fear for his physical safety. >> i'm not scared of the government. i keep saying that. because if the government really wanted to harm me they would do that. but i'm scared of the ordinary people. just recently when someone wrote in the newspaper about me, and if you went and read, there were facebook comments on that, and if you read the comments there were people who were saying they could kill me if they saw me. >> reporter: on facebook? >> yeah, on facebook, comments on the monitor, and there were who people were saying all kinds of horrible things, so you just imagine. and i interact with people, you know, and people tell you horrible things right to your face. >> reporter: mugisha says he is bracing himself for the renewed public debate as hearings are scheduled for the anti-homosexuality legislation. for "religion and ethics newsweekly," this is fred de sam
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lazaro in kampala, uganda. in other news, the southern baptist convention has decided against a possible name change. the decision comes after years of debate over whether the word southern appeared too regional. church leaders instead suggested that southern baptists who choose to, may call themselves "great commission baptists," referring to jesus' coand to spread the gospel to all nations. they said an official name change would be too costly and could create legal complications. ask most christians whom they associate with the book of revelation and the answer probably will be john, the same person who wrote the gospel of john. but elaine pagels, a professor of religion at princeton university, supports the view that the man behind revelation
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was another john, crying t against the tyray of the ran empire. pagels has written a new book called "revelations" -- plural. she tells correspondent bob faw how other books of revelation were left out of the bible, and how the one that made it in has been interpreted in very different ways. >> and another sign appeared in heaven. a great red dragon with ten horns and seven diadems on his head. his tail swept down a third of the stars in heaven and cast them to earth. and the dragon stood before -- >> reporter: for almost 2000 years, that fantastic, sometimes nightmarish language of the book of revelation has confused and inspired, it was the inspiration for paintings by william blake, for the poetry of john milton.
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lyrics like "he hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword," that too came from revelation. despite its profound impact, noted biblical scholar elaine pagels says revelation remains "the strangest book in the bible" and "the least understood." >> it's the most controversial book in the bible. it's always been that. some people thought it didn't belong there at all. and other people wanted to throw it out. others love it, and some hate it. some christians never talk about it, some people never stop talking about it. a lot of people throughout the country were using it as a predictor of current events and using it as part of their impetus to get into the iraq war. people could apply this sort of war against good and evil to almost any situation you were involved with. >> reporter: pagels, author of the acclaimed book "the gnostic gospels," was one of the first scholars to study ancient scrolls unearthed in egypt in 1945.
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what the scholars found is that the book of revelation was not written by the author of the gospel of john but by a different john living on the isle of patmos off what is now turkey. >> he seems to be a jewish prophet who is a refugee from a war in his own country, which was judea, from jerusalem, where a war had broken out in 66 to the year 70 when the romans came in with 60,000 troops and totally destroyed jerusalem. >> reporter: it was, she writes, john's "cry of anguish." >> this book picks up the language from the prophets and speaks about rome and the leaders of rome, the emperors, as a huge bright red dragon with seven heads, seven horns on its head. it was anti-roman propaganda, because john was devastated by what had happened to his people, what had happened to the city of jerusalem. >> reporter: he writes it in language of dreams and
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nightmares. >> yes. it was probably dangerous in the roman empire to openly express hostility to rome, so people would have done it in coded language. >> reporter: john's book of revelation targeted the roman empire as evil. but nearly 300 years later, when the roman empire became christian, a wily and powerful bishop, athanasius, used the book of revelation to strengthen his hold on the christian movement. >> he says well it's not just about the roman empire. this is about me fighting my opponents trying to create the orthodox catholic church in the fourth century. so he turns it into a story about christians against other christians, and that's taken up later by martin luther against catholics. it's taken up by catholics against martin luther. it's taken up by catholics against protestants and protestants against catholics, and it keeps on going that way. >> reporter: and it was bishop athanaus who decreed that the revelation written by john of
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patmos would be in the bible even though most bishops would have left it out, says pagels. >> most of the list we have of what's supposed to be the new testament completely leave this book out. it's just gone. the one person who puts it in is bishop athanasius, and he realized that he could take this imagery of the war of good against evil and turn it against his religious enemies. >> reporter: in that treasure trove of scrolls found in egypt in 1945 there was not just one book of revelation. there were several, altogether different than the book that got in the bible. >> most of them aren't about the end of the world, and they're not about judging the good and the evil. these other revelation texts have a different vision of the human race, that the same people could be both cruel and compassionate, that we are more complex than that. >> reporter: they would not have been as useful for bishop athanasius to consolidate the church. that's why he chose this particular one?
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>> i think that athanasius did choose this to consolidate the church and talk about you have to be, you know, orthodox to go up into heaven. otherwise you fall into the lake of fire. i mean, this had been terrifying images for thousands of years. >> reporter: those images, the four horsemen of the apocalypse and the whore of babylon, that is the version which resonates even now, largely, says pagels, because those images can mean whatever a reader wants them to mean. >> this book isn't communicating much that's cerebral. it's really about what we hope and what we fear, and it's as but it comes out with hope at the end, so it's very appealing to people who live in times of huge turmoil. >> reporter: i wonder if a reader could come away thinking this book should not be taken as seriously as history has shown it has been taken. >> i think you're right that when you look at a book that's in the bible and you start to look at it in historical
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context, and you say, "oh, this person wrote it in that situation, in war, you can say it doesn't matter as much. it's not necessarily something that came down from heaven. i'm a historian and that, to me, is an important way of looking at it. it's not the only way. it's not the way most religious people look at it. but it seems to me an important way of understanding our tradition. >> reporter: elaine pagels' new book, revelations, may not become a best-seller like "the gnostic gospels" was, but it is already focusing attention on this princeton professor, who says revelation might not give her comfort but that it does satisfy her curiosity. >> i actuly find this very mpelling, and i am saying why? that's a question i ask myself. what is it i love about this tradition, this christian tradition? i wanted to think about how religion works, why people still are very deeply affected by religious language.
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i wanted to explore that, and this book is a perfect book for that because it's not about the intellect. it goes straight to the emotions. >> reporter: the book of revelation, always perplexing and provocative and now seen anew. fo"religion and ethics newsweekly," this is bob faw in princeton, new jersey. on our calendar, for western christians, this past wednesday was ash wednesday, which ushered in the 40-day period of lent. at the vatican, pope benedict xvi presided over the traditional distribution of ashes. some christians sprinkle ashes on the top of the head, others place an ash mark on t forehead, all as a symbol of penitence and a reminder of human mortality, ashes to ashes. ash wednesday services usually take place inside a sanctuary.
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but in the u.s., there is a growing trend of taking the ritual to the streets, or as some people are calling it, ashes to go. we spoke with julie bringman, director of sunday night ministries at foundry united methodist church in washington. she and other members of her church were distributing ashes to morning commuters at a busy metro stop. >> i work specifically with a sunday evening service at foundry that's a little more casual, a little more accessible than church always is so we thought that in the theme of casual and accessible we would bring the ashes to the street. a lot of people don't remember that its ash wednesday, it falls at a different time every year or they don't know where to go to church or what time or don't have time to, so we thought if we bought the ashes to the morning commute more people
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would remember that it was happening and be able to participate and receive the ashes if they wanted to. ash wednesday is the beginning of the season of lent which is six weeks preceding easter where we get ready for easter so it's a time of reflection and analysis with the hope that this time of preparation makes room for god. we receive ashes on our forehead to remember that life is short. that we are all transient beings and we don't know what our time is and we want to be grateful for the time that we have. so while putting ashes on the forehead someone says you come from dust and you will turn to dust. i think that there are a lot of things that we have the habit of only doing in church that make a lot of sense when we take them outside of church so even that sense of ash wednesday and that life is short and we want to be grateful for the time that we have in the midst of the morning commute is when people may need that reminder even more. we hope that we do things and we do things in creative ways and then god shows up and so i guess
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my hope is that people who saw this had a small moment of awareness or awakening or attentiveness that gets us out of the routine and open to new things and that that makes room for god. for orthodox christians who follow a different calendar, great lent begins on monday, or clean monday. it's a time of strict fasting and prayer. members of the baha'i faith will also begin a 19-day period of fasting this week leading up to their new year at the end of march. that's o program for now. i'm bobbernethy. you can follow us on twitter and facebook, find us on youtube, and watch us anytime, anywhere on smart phones. there's also much more on our web site, where you can read an excerpt from elaine pagel's new book. you can comment on all of our stories and share them.
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audio and video podcasts are also available. join us at as we leave you, scenes of celebrations of losar, the tibetan new year which began on wednesday.
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